Lapidary of Sacred Stones & My Grandmother’s Amber

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I’m finishing up research on Medieval and Renaissance uses of stones of all kinds (even stones like gall stones and kidney stones) for the purpose of religious worship (including all Abrahamic religions), healing, and protection.

The stones you see in the picture are a string of raw amber my grandmother brought back for me from Częstochowa, Poland. She made a pilgrimage to see The Black Madonna of Częstochowa 30 years ago and returned a very different woman after that experience. They carried so much energy in them that I locked them away and lost track of them until recently.

According to the lapidary, amber or Cymbra as it was called is thought to be engendered from the breath of a whale, found at the bottom of the sea and the mouth of rivers. It guards the virtues of the body, sharpens the memory, and banishes sorrows.

In The Thousand and One Nights, all sorts of stones are pitched into the sea by a fountain, swallowed by fish and spit back out as amber.

Pliny offered us a fanciful creation story, stating that amber was produced by the sun’s rays that would leave it behind as they struck the ground at the end of the day.

In folk medicine, it is used to tranquilize the mind.

Amber plays a key role in The Woman On The Wall, As does the Cult of the Black Madonna.

More on that soon.

A Longing For Places You’ve Never Been

The Germans got it right with their word for wanderlust.

Fernweh, or farsickness, is the perfect description for the longing I’ve held within myself for as long as I can remember.

I get super swoony over the wonderment brought on by thoughts of heading off to other places. It’s where I go when I read, but even more so when I write.

Like that moment in Out of Africa (#2 on my top 5 swoony movies of all time list) when Meryl Streep says to Robert Redford, “I have been a mental traveler.”

(Pretty sure I was Karen Blixen in another life)

I recall the very moments of when this all began. As a child, I spent my days announcing to my parents that I would travel the world as a biologist or an archeologist. I would speak ten languages. I would seek out the elephants of Africa, the ruins of South America, the ghosts of Medieval France.

My father, a bit wanderlusty himself, first gifted me with a subscription to National Geographic. I pored through the pages, careful never to crumple or tear the stories within them, as I believed they would serve as my travel guide to all of the places my soul longed to take in.

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I got on my first plane when I was 8. Back in the prehistoric ages (1979), it was totally cool to put two young kids on an airplane in Denver, let them change planes in Chicago, and let their auntie pick them up in Toronto or Buffalo so they could stay the Summer with their cousins. We did that every year until I was probably 12. When people freak out about me traveling alone as an adult, I tell them that story and we never speak of such fears again.

Since then, it is an unsatisfied ache that I cannot contain.
I’ve lived and traveled all over North America (43 states, 8 provinces) on my own and with my family. We, as a family, camped our way across Canada twice, deliberately left our lives on Vancouver Island in order to spend a year in Halifax just to experience the Atlantics. As a younger adult, I moved every 18 months from the time I was 22 until I was 35.  I married a Canadian, immigrated to another country.

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Looking back as I write this, I realize how much traveling I have actually done. There’s just one hiccup in all of that – I have never left the continent. I didn’t even have a passport until I was 30.

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My tendency is to lean toward a willingness to exaggerate the rationale behind this little crimp in my fernweh in order to avoid my underlying shame. Really, though, I spent a lot of my life as a bit of a sissy.

Big dreams.
Limited action.

Well, that shit is all done.

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In three months, I wave goodbye to my family, honouring that 8-year-old little kid and the Medieval French ghost hunter inside me as I head to Paris, then deep into the Loire Valley on my own.

It’s about healing an old wound I inflicted upon myself so very long ago –  the one where I didn’t trust in my own ability to travel the world.

Yes, I’ve dressed it all up in a romantic package of researching The Woman On The Wall. However, all of the museums, countryside explorations on my bike, backroom castle tours, and cafe writing with espresso and a slab of brie serve an even higher purpose than tapping into the magical world of da Vinci.

They give a little girl back her dream, and then let her see it through.

I’ll be journaling about bits and pieces surrounding this trip for the next few months or so. Follow me to see how this all plays out.

The Romance of the Epistolary Novel

I’ve made a huge dent in The Woman On The Wall this week, finally hitting my flow in the balance between the modern-day timeline and the historic epistolary component.

Incorporating the fictitious journals and letters of Francesco Melzi and determining their role in the storytelling process has, to be honest, posed the biggest dilemma for me. How I approached them would determine the entire tone of the novel.

Would it be a thriller?

Would it be a historical drama?

I went with a love story full of magical realism as our adoration of the Monda Lisa is nothing short of a torrid romance.

To drive this level of intoxication, mystery, and obsession, I turned to Griffin & Sabine this afternoon. Nick Bantock may qualify as the grand master of epistolary storytelling with his series, leading us through the mysterious connection between two unlikely lovers.

I’ve made myself swoon. 😉

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Dreaming of France

This year marks the 500th anniversary of Leonardo da Vinci’s birth. In the last half a millennia, there is hardly another human who has seen as much praise heaped upon him. To say his body of work is admirable is a mild statement.

So, when I set my sights on writing a novel about the true identity of the Mona Lisa, I knew I could not miss a chance to travel to France this year to take in all of the fanfare.

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For the last month, I’ve been cruising websites and consulting my lovely friend Celia who is a fabulous travel agent about this journey of a lifetime.

At first, I thought I might take my oldest daughter on the adventure. In the end, though, it looks like I will be traveling solo, and I’ve never been more excited.

I’ve busted out the Duolingo to make sure I can communicate with ease.  Phrasebooks and maps are starting to pile up as well.

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I’ve pulled out my Kate Mosse collection to re-read for inspiration.

 

IMG_1833-minOf course, I will be diving deep into the history, preservation, and stories surrounding Mona Lisa. A trip to the Louvre is definitely in the mix.

I’m most looking forward to a week in Amboise, France—especially Clos Lucé where da Vinci spent his final years.

Amboise is my kind of vacation town—a local open-air market for food, quaint house vacation rentals, the ability to walk everywhere, and evenings along the Loire River.

Of course, Chateau Amboise and the history of that magnificent place makes me swoon.

 

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Chateau Amboise

Did You Know The Mona Lisa Has A Twin?

It’s true, the Mona Lisa has a twin who lives in Spain.

The Prado in Madrid has been home to what many considered a knock-off for years.

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Until it came down for restoration a few years ago, no one even knew that there was scenery behind a layer of black paint.

Now, it turns out M.L. has a sister.

Or, is there something even more interesting going on?

Learn more about this twinning HERE

I have my theories about how it’s possible that two of these beauties exist. Time to go finish what may be like the twentieth book on the Mona Lisa that I have read since I started researching her for Woman On The Wall.

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My plan is to go hang out with her in person this Fall on a solo research trip—first stop, Paris. After that,  I’m headed for the bucolic hills of Amboise to hang with da Vinci himself and see if I can discover some of my own answers about our La Gioconda.

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Day 20 – In The Writer’s Studio

More research. Where does it all get stored? (obvs, not my brain. That would be dangerous.)

First stop, Pinterest.

Go peek inside my Pinterest boards at https://www.pinterest.ca/robinmrivers/boards/

Watch the video on Insta. Be sure to like and comment. Tell me what you want to know about the writing process.

 

Day 19 – In The Writer’s Studio

When you procrastinate all day and still have to put the time in:

Day 17 – In The Writer’s Studio (Part 2)

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Day 17 in the writer’s studio. Overcoming my fears about sharing my work and the process that writers go through to get the stories inside of them birthed into the world. This is the beginning of regular updates on my #wip The Woman On The Wall along with writing thoughts and random musings on all of the weirdness that is my inner world. Jump over to the next video to see more as I didn’t get the timing right today, and I’m so far behind on writing because of this video diversion that I could not bring myself to delete and re-record. Thanks for jumping in with me. RR #amwriting #amresearching #novelistsofinstagram #writersofinstagram #davinci #thewomanonthewall #writingprocess #video

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Day 17 – In The Writer’s Studio

Hi there! Well, the first sixteen days back in the writer’s studio were a blur. However, I’m here now with daily video diary updates on my projects. Take a peek inside life in the writer’s studio. Let me know what you want to know about and I’ll do my best to post on it.

This is just the beginning! 

View this post on Instagram

Day 17 in the writer’s studio. Overcoming my fears about sharing my work and the process that writers go through to get the stories inside of them birthed into the world. This is the beginning of regular updates on my #wip The Woman On The Wall along with writing thoughts and random musings on all of the weirdness that is my inner world. Jump over to the next video to see more as I didn’t get the timing right today, and I’m so far behind on writing because of this video diversion that I could not bring myself to delete and re-record. Thanks for jumping in with me. RR #amwriting #amresearching #novelistsofinstagram #writersofinstagram #davinci #thewomanonthewall #writingprocess #video

A post shared by Robin Rivers (@robinmrivers) on